West Ham United: Sleepwalking to relegation?
By Dan Wheeler
A seven point cushion with 12 games to go should be enough, you would think. Enough to make sure of at least another season in the Premier League; enough to make sure club coffers are swelled by £60m; enough for Sam Allardyce to have another contract.
Well, as we know, football is never the most dependable nag on which to wager your mortgage and the way West Ham United are playing at the moment, and have been playing for the last couple of months, supporters are rightly worried. So abject have their team been, particularly away from home, it seems the gradient towards the nether regions of the table could soon collapse to into a decline more rapid than a hessian mat down a helter skelter.
Their latest performance at Aston Villa was so abysmal even the co-chairman David Gold could not contain himself, taking to twitter to express sympathy with the fans who turned up to watch. “Disappointed for the fans who travelled hundreds of miles on a miserable day to lose to a team in the bottom three. We should do better,” he tweeted. Although he only described the day as miserable, it was clear he could easily have been talking about the team.
Allardyce, though, in his post-match press conference was having none of it. “Apart from the Aston Villa fans, anyone who watched knows we deserved something,” he harrumphed.
He was nearly right. “Apart from the Aston Villa fans, and anyone with better-than-average eyesight,” he should have said.
He went on: “We completely dominated the second half and we've ended up losing 2-1. Even at the end their goalkeeper was the hero." No come on Sam, me old son, I think you’ve been standing in the rain too long.
It was most unlike Allardyce actually. Normally he is refreshingly honest and uncompromising when the team have stank the place out (which they have done pretty much since late 2012 away from home). We all have off days though I suppose.
The timing of the Gold and co-owner David Sullivan’s conformation that talks over a new contract for Allardyce would not be held until the club’s top-flight status was decided - one way or the other - was interesting. It may be old news as far as they and Allardyce are concerned but to release it publicly 24 hours or so after a shocking performance can only act as a tacit reminder to the manager that ideas have to be bucked up.
I, for one, have some sympathy for Allardyce. It was not that long ago - 1 December in fact - that the club were seemingly on an irresistible surge towards the European places having just secured their biggest home win over Chelsea in more than 20 years. Naturally, he, as the manager, has to take his share of the blame but major questions have to be asked about the players.
Winston Reid is the only defender immune from criticism. Jussi Jaaskelainen had a spell where he was an able shot stopper but his handling has become so repellant it seems he keeps in a breast plate. Strikers know, more often than not, their shots will come straight back at them for a second go.
The Hammers also appear to have more options in midfield than Cadbury give you over hot chocolate. Trouble is they are all pretty much the same flavour. There is no pace, no snap and very little creativity. When they are in possession their movement of the ball is so arthritic, you wonder whether the half-time oranges should be replaced by glucosamine.
The least said about the strikers, the better. The statistics tell you everything. Carlton Cole and Andy Carroll of the regulars are the most prolific. They have two goals each. Yes, that is right folks. Two. Each.
Carroll epitomizes the West Ham’s slump. After an hour of his debut in August he looked the signing of the season. How Hammers fans purred. How the footballing community chortled at how much of a clown it made Brendan Rodgers look. Now it’s West Ham who appear to be at the controls of a square-wheeled car with Carroll looking so fish-on-a-bank uncomfortable. Yes he has had his injury problems but he is not injured now. Has not been for weeks. At a reported £90,000 per week, he has proved, so far at least, a luxury that West Ham cannot indulge. Barring any resurrection in form, it would be a great surprise if his move is made permanent at the end of the season.
Carroll’s wages are not the only money not being wisely spent. The record fee (upwards of £10m) dished out on Matt Jarvis looks embarrassingly flabby The former Wolves winger is playing like he is carrying the fee around his shoulders in loose change.
Then there’s Modibo Maiga. Signed for around £5m in the summer, he is actually the most effective striker with four goals and has always seemed to offer something exotic when he plays. That accolade has not been enough to warrant a regular place though and, if he is disenchanted with life at Upton Park as rumours repeatedly suggest, you can understand why. Like Sam Baldock and Nicky Maynard before him, he can do no more than take his chance when it comes. Like Baldock and Maynard, taking your chance when it comes, is sometimes still not enough. His signing seems utterly bizarre.
So how likely is it that West Ham will go down? Probably not very, really. But that seven-point gap is nowhere near as comfortable as it seems. Half of the remaining dozen games are away from home and, on current form, you would not expect many points from visits to Stoke, Chelsea, Liverpool, Southampton, Manchester City and Everton. A return of zero from that lot is not impossible.
With 40 points traditionally signifying dry ground in the scrap to stay in the division, West Ham need another 10 points from their six home games. And who are they against?
So at least a point has to be gotten out of Spurs, United or Albion to reach the target and that is assuming Wigan, Newcastle and Reading are all beaten.
When you consider the Hammers have been averaging less than a point a game since December, the equation becomes even more of a concern.
Ultimately they really ought to have enough and Allardyce ought to have his new contract. But he will be wary of treating himself to a new fountain pen just yet.